Mississippi's 15 Week Abortion Ban Bill Could Become Law Sooner Than You Think

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Even though Mississippi has just one abortion clinic, state lawmakers currently are trying to rush through what would be the nation's earliest abortion ban. The state's Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote on a proposed 15 week abortion ban in Mississippi that its Public Health and Welfare Committee approved on Tuesday. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has indicated that he'll sign the bill into law if it passes.

Mississippi is already home to some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. The procedure is banned in the state 20 weeks after conception; women must obtain an ultrasound and receive state-directed counseling beforehand; and minors are required to get permission from their parents to go through with the procedure. House Bill 1510 would give women even less time to decide to terminate a pregnancy by banning abortion after the first trimester. A total of 24 states currently restrict abortion after a certain number of weeks, but 15 weeks would be the earliest cutoff in the nation.

Bryant declared in 2014 that his goal is "to end abortions in Mississippi." A 15-week abortion ban would be one step closer to that goal. "As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child," Bryant told Mississippi Today. "House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal, and I am grateful the House passed it. I look forward to signing it once the Senate follows suit."

House Bill 1510 could be voted on as early as next week. The bill does include exceptions for cases of severe fetal abnormality, danger to the woman’s life, and serious risk of “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” to the woman.

The measure would still be the earliest abortion ban in the country, though other states are currently discussing even earlier bans. Earlier this month, an Iowa Senate panel approved a bill that would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks. Ohio lawmakers attempted to pass a similar heartbeat bill in 2016, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. Highlighting the same anti-abortion ideology on the federal level, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that abortion in the U.S. will end "in our time." He added: "I know in my heart of hearts this will be the generation that restores life in America."

Reproductive rights advocates vehemently oppose Mississippi's proposed 15-week ban. Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, told Rewire the proposed law would be “unspeakably dangerous” for Mississippi women. She further pointed out that it could end up costing the state if challenged in court. “HB 1510 is part of a strategic attack on Roe v. Wade and a blatant attempt to chip away at women’s rights,” Brown-Williams said. “Mississippi legislators know that if it passes, HB 1510 will be the subject of a lengthy and expensive legal battle, with Mississippi taxpayers footing the bill. The thing is, they don’t seem to care.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been the only abortion clinic in the state for years, and as such has faced multiple threats of closing. Last year, an anti-abortion center moved in just 100 yards away. The Cut's Amanda Arnold explained the common harassment that takes place outside the clinic:

"Every day, protesters stand outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization chanting phrases like 'the baby doesn’t want to die,' and in 2015, intruders severely vandalized the location by smashing security cameras and tampering with electrical wires."

Although the proposed 15-week abortion ban will likely be challenged in court, its passage could still make it more difficult for Mississippi women to obtain an abortion as early as next week.